Leahy Presses Subpoenas on White House

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, discusses the subpoenas issued to the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the Justice Dept., seeking more information about President Bush's domestic surveillance program.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A legal showdown is brewing over President Bush's domestic spying program. The Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas yesterday ordering the White House to turnover documents about warrantless wiretapping carried out by the National Security Agency. The White House has not said whether it will comply with the subpoenas.

Senator Patrick Leahy is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and joins us now on the line. Good morning.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont; Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, to begin with, you have made nine formal requests for these documents by your count and the White House has not complied. Why do you think this time will be different with this subpoena?

Sen. LEAHY: Well, this time we have a subpoena. You know, interestingly enough, I mean, you look at this, only three of the Republicans on the committee voted against the subpoena. This is a strong bipartisan vote for the subpoenas. A year ago, when the Republicans controlled the Senate, Senator Specter actually wanted to issue similar subpoenas and Vice President Cheney came to the Republican caucus and basically told the Republican senators that they're not allowed to issue such a subpoena. They caved to the pressure and didn't. Now things have changed and…

MONTAGNE: And…

Sen. LEAHY: …I think they're all getting tired of the stonewalling and the subpoenas came out. It's a part of all the questions we're asking.

MONTAGNE: Right.

Sen. LEAHY: We've tried for cooperation. We don't get answers, or if we do, we get misdirection in our answers. And frankly, I'm tired of getting I don't know, I don't remember or I'm not going to answer.

MONTAGNE: And what documents, briefly, are you demanding?

Sen. LEAHY: The - we know that the administration involved itself in illegal wiretapping for years, actually, until the press reported on it. And we also know that they did this under some kind of an internal legal justification. I want to know what that so-called legal justification was and who gave it, because obviously it was done at a time when they said they hadn't done such a thing.

We've had some people who have not told us the truth before the committee. I want to know what the truth is. We've seen the manipulation of prosecutors, we've seen the manipulation of prosecutions, and we've seen the destruction of the independence of the Department of Justice.

MONTAGNE: Although the White House has said it has given you and your committee classified briefings on the domestic spying program. Did they not answer your questions?

Sen. LEAHY: They've given some classified briefings, yes. I'm not trying - I'm not talking about what the specific operations were. I've had briefings on that. I want to know what they based their legal claims on. Basically, what the - and we saw this in The Washington Post articles - Vice President Cheney has said that the president doesn't have to answer to you, the courts or the Congress if he's acting somehow as commander in chief in a never-ending war on terror. Well, that's, you know, there's never been such a claim by any president in the history of the country. It certainly is contrary to everything. We've said, well, you have checks and balances in a government, and I want to know how many areas where they've totally ignored the law.

MONTAGNE: Senator, thank you very much.

Sen. LEAHY: Thank you. Take care.

MONTAGNE: Patrick Leahy is a Democrat from Vermont. He is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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